Thursday, February 21, 2008

Johanna Spaey: Dood van een soldaat

I just finished reading this quirky novel, and in spite of the fact that it has not been translated into English, I wanted to mention it. I picked it up at our library which had a display of books by local writers. Johanna Spaey is a native of Leuven and born the same year as myself. The story takes place around Leuven in 1919 and follows a single female doctor in a small village who, together with the local "veldwachter" (rural police officer) is investigating the murder of a soldier, as well as trying to reconnect with her brother and boyfriend, who both returned from the war as broken men. It's part love story, part thriller, part detective novel, part feminist tract...

I wish it was translated into English: I'd love to pass it on to my mother because about every other chapter the doctor character is eating some kind of cake, pie or pastry, which I know she would get a kick out of! The story is a bit hectic and is like one of those plays where people are constantly going in and out of the doors on the stage - from one house to the next, back and forth...bit by bit the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

For more information on the author and her book, check out this website which promotes Dutch literature:

My husband just finished reading this novel and he actually liked it better than I did but found the ending confusing. And he is a native Dutch speaker...hmmm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hugo Claus: The Sorrow of Belgium

Bonnie of the "Book around the world" challenge just let me know that she added The Sorrow of Belgium to the site: She wanted to know if I would be willing to write some comments (of course!) but since it has been 18 years since I read it, I am going to read it again. Which is quite ironic, since this year is the book's 25th anniversary and there was a reading marathon of it in Leuven last weekend. So it is actually a great opportunity to re-read a classic of Belgian literature. I own the English translation but I am seriously considering reading it in Dutch this time. When I first read it, my command of Dutch was nowhere near good enough to read it in the original but now it would work!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another fun reading challenge

Ok, I admit it, I've been spending some time lately lurking around other blogs about books! I found another intriguing reading challenge: books around the world: . The idea is to read a book dealing with each and every country in the world - thankfully there is no time limit! The challenge blog has a list with suggestions for many countries, but sadly enough they didn't have Belgium listed. So I suggested The Sorrow of Belgium by Hugo Claus. A wonderful book! Hopefully this will inspire someone to read it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jane Austen book challenge

Being new to book blogging, I have been looking around at other blogs about books and literature and I discovered that there are loads of wonderful blogs by readers, writers, reviewers and book lovers like myself. A lot of them set up reading challenges. I found a blogger who's holding a Jane Austen challenge this year and decided to join in:

The goal is to read at least two Jane Austen novels in 2008. As it so happens I love Jane Austen, and always enjoy the movies. The Dutch TV channel is currently showing one of the BBC mini series of Pride and Prejudice, I think. Now I have a reason to get myself to the library this week to check some books out - as usual I know I've read some Austen novels, but simply cannot remember which ones. So this will be a good opportunity to sort that out once and for all.

On another note, we have just decided to go to London over spring break and I am so looking forward to making a stop at the Persephone bookshop. They are the coolest publisher, re-publishing literature by, for and about women in beautiful editions: I have never been to the bookshop in person, always ordered the books via post. I better bring an extra suitcase!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Zadie Smith: White Teeth

Remember I was busy reading this a few posts back? I just finished it and it took me longer than normal on this sort of novel. I think part of the reason I was slower with this was the large amout of dialogue in North London accents which I sometimes had to read several times to figure out what it was, or simply wanted to read it several times (sometimes even out loud!) to get a feel for how it would sound. But I'm not complaining - I often find myself zooming through books much too fast and it was nice to take this one a bit slower.

White Teeth was Zadie Smith's debut novel, published in 2000. It is a kind of epic novel following two main characters, Archie, an Englishman and Samad, Bengali, who were in the same tank crew in World War II, and who later in life meet again in North London, and the subsequent relationships between their wives and children. Late in the novel another family gets thrown into the mix. The novel is a rollercoaster ride from one theme to another, from one character to another, touching on things like race, immigrants, religion, genetic engineering, sibling rivalry, parenting, fundamentalism, class and cultural differences, feminism, love and history. It is a fascinating ride, very intellectual at times, humorous and entertaining at others. I have to say, despite the two main characters not being the easiest of protagonists to identify with (for me anyway) I ended up really enjoying the book. I also liked the way the author wove the image of teeth (from the title) in and out of the book.

My favorite character in the book was Irie, Archie's daughter, and the one I liked the least was Joyce, the mother of the third family that gets involved. And of course, Future Mouse steals the show at the end!

I also loved that the ending was very satisfying, tying up a few loose strings, bring some themes full circle and leaving you with the feeling that the characters lives went on and on, just like real people, but no dreadful feeling like I sometimes have with books, where it seems to me that the most interesting part of the characters lives is what comes after the conclusion of the book. No, with this book, I definitely have the feeling that I have just been served all the most significant parts of their lives and I can live quite happily with the ending.

I will definitely be looking to read more of Zadie Smith in the future. I noticed that our library has a few of her novels in the original and I am thinking On Beauty might be the next one I read.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thyroid Balance

Three years ago I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and while I don't have a severe case and have managed to do really well on hormone replacement, I do have to keep on top of it and have my levels checked periodically. The last few months I started to feel more and more of some of those odd little symptoms that signal that the thyroid is not working optimally, and scheduled my appointment with my doctor a bit sooner than usual, and lo and behold, my gut feeling was right - my TSH levels are nearly two points higher than they have been the last two years and it looks like I'll need to increase my dose a bit.

Why am I writing all of this in my blog about books? When I was first learning about hypothyroidism I bought several books on the topic and there is one in particular that I think is excelllent and I turn to it again and again for reference. One of the reasons my gut feeling worked so well is from what this book taught me to pay attention to. Just recently when I suspected there was something not right, I got it out and re-read certain parts to help me figure out what was going on. The book is:

  • Thyroid Balance: Traditional and Alternative Methods for Treating Thyroid Disorders. Glenn S. Rothfeld, M.D. and Deborah S. Romaine. (Adams Media, 2003)

What I love about this book are the excellent explanations of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism, the very clear information about the endocrine system as a whole, which is important to understand (at least to me, but I realize I am a wonk about health info - not everybody is going to find this as interesting as I do!), and the clear and unbiased review of all your options for treatment. Out of the several books I bought, this is the one I would definitely recommend as the one book you should have if you have any kind of thyroid problem.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Marianne Williamson's latest book

Marianne Williamson is one of my all-time favorite spiritual writers. Her writing and spiritual philosophy is based on the classic work A Course in Miracles, which is in itself so dense and difficult to understand, that Marianne's interpretation of it in her own books is far easier to understand and apply to real life than the Course itself, I find. The basic premise of the Course, as I understand it, is how the practical application of unconditional love and forgiveness for others as well as for ourselves can help us deal with all sorts of problems in our lives.

So of course while I was in the US recently and saw her newest book (The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife) in the bookstore, I had to buy it. Unfortunately at the beginning I was a little disappointed by it. Simply because it felt to me that she was recycling insights she had already written elsewhere and that there was little new to be found, and it is fluffier than her previous books. Still, Marianne writes beautifully about love, forgiveness and spirituality, and by the end of the book I was happier with it. She applies the principles of the Course to the middle phase of life - 40 and up.

However, if I was recommending one of her books to read to someone who has never read her before it would not be my first choice. Here are three others I personally find better:

  • A Return to Love : Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (1992)
  • Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness and Making Miracles (2002)
  • The Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life (2004)

I actually read these in reverse order, having first discovered Marianne Williamson with The Gift of Change. This is a fabulous book, much denser than her most recent one. My copy has tons of passages underlined. A major theme in the book is the fact that we have a choice in how we respond to things in our life, and by consciously choosing to respond in a certain way, we create our life:

Practive kindness, and you start to become kind. Practice discipline,
and you start to become disciplined. Practice forgiveness, and you
start to become forgiving...We have the power to generate as well as react
to feelings; to hone our personalities as we travel through life...It is
never too late to become who we really are

Everyday Grace is a gem of a book, taking some of the core principles of the Course in Miracles and applying them to everyday situations. Another book that I have lots of pencil marks in and one I turn to in difficult moments for inspiration and comfort.

A Return to Love was the first book she wrote, which grew out of her extensive lecturing on the Course in Miracles. It might be better to read this one first before the others as her explanations of the principles of the Course are more fundamental, and the applications of it are more to individual problems and themes, rather than the more universal viewpoint that Marianne later adopts.

And I don't feel that it is necessary to get a copy of The Course in Miracles to benefit from Marianne Willamson's books. I have a copy of it, but to be very honest, it is so dense and difficult to understand that I quickly gave up my attempt to read it (at this point in my life anyhow!) and rely on Marianne and other spiritual philosphers like Dan Joseph ( to point out and clarify the important points to me - in ways that I can apply in my own life.

Incidentally, for those of you who have XM radio (we don't here in Belgium) Marianne has a regular show on Oprah's network. For more information about Marianne Williamson, go to:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Quick Update on Penguin Celebrations

I happened to be in the store where I originally bought the three Penguin Celebrations editions and thought I would see if they still had some...scanned the shelves once, twice, three times...didn't see them. Finally thought to ask a salesman and he told me they were all GONE. The distributor took all the unsold Celebrations in Belgium and put them all in some bookshop in the Brussels Airpot. Dang!

I did check the Penguin website and you can still buy some of them online...but not all of them are available. I am nearly done with Zadie Smith...